As audience members ourselves, its easy to forget how nerve racking being on stage in the moment can be for performers, regardless of experience level. John Paul White, known as one-half of Grammy award winning duo The Civil Wars, is now touring the states as a solo musician, celebrating the release of his newest record, The Hurting Kind. Despite years of touring, White admits to still getting jittery on stage: “…having the full spotlight on me was jarring at first, and still can be,” he explains in an email interview. “It doesn’t perfectly fit my personality. To be honest, standing on stage – alone or in a group – can feel naked, and a little arrogant.”
Though a consummate professional and true music fan, White relishes the moment to connect personally with his fans, and recognizes the performer / audience energy exchange as a positive aspect of being a musician. “But I dearly love seeing people’s eyes during a show, and getting that thrill of connecting with them.”
We caught up with White while he tours the country in support of his new album, The Hurting Kind. He plays Union Stage with his band on May 8th. Scoop your tickets, and read his thoughts on songwriting, touring and being a tourist.
Interview by Kayle Nagle
KAYLEY NAGLE: I was very intrigued by the title of your new album, The Hurting Kind. What inspired the title? How does it resemble your music?
JOHN PAUL WHITE: That title just popped in my head. That happens a lot – little snippets of things people say, or I read, that just feel like more than the sum of words in the phrase. When it appeared, I knew instantly two things. One, there was a song in there. Two, it was going to be the name of the record. It just felt perfect. Maybe because the type of songs and records I love are the hurting kind. Maybe the people that shaped me most were the hurting kind. I don’t know. I just thought, “Man, I have to hook this song.”
KN: What is your favorite song to perform live? Why?
JPW: That changes quite often, but it’s typically a cover. My songs exhaust me, typically. Emotionally, but also physically. With other people’s material, it’s a blast just interpreting, instead of bearing wounds. It’s also fun to watch the recognition in a crowd’s eyes, and to show people how good a song is in a different arrangement. Right now that song is “Can’t Get It Out Of My Head” by ELO.
KN: What has your transformation to a solo artist been like? What sort of challenges have you faced? How has it helped you grow as a musician?
JPW: I was a solo musician for more years than I care to admit before the Civil Wars, so it wasn’t new uncharted territory. But it was an adjustment, to be sure. Having the full spotlight on me was jarring at first, and still can be. It doesn’t perfectly fit my personality. To be honest, standing on stage – alone or in a group – can feel naked, and a little arrogant. “Buy a ticket and sit in front of me and marvel at my singing and songwriting talents.” But I dearly love seeing people’s eyes during a show, and getting that thrill of connecting with them.
KN: When you aren’t working on music, what do you enjoy doing in your free time? Going to the park? Watching a good movie?
JPW: Whatever it is, it’s with my wife and kids. I relish all the bits and pieces of time I have with them, and squeeze everything out of it I can. We love movies, homemade pizza nights, bowling, swimming, hiking. My kids still like being around mom and dad, and I’m not taking that for granted for a second.
KN: Were there any songs off the album that were more experimental? Any songs that forced you to step outside of your comfort zone to create? How did that feel?
JPW: I think there was a moment that the entire record felt experimental on the outset. I set out to make a record I was looking for on the shelf: one that harkened to the 50s and 60s countrypolitan sound, but with a modern sensibility. Once I settled into writing the songs, it felt like an old comfy sweater I’d been looking for all my life – and it was right there in my drawer all along.
KN: How has tour-life been? Are you looking forward to any city in particular?
JPW: Tour life is something that never really changes. Sometimes it’s more comfortable and smoother than other times, but it’s always tiring – and that hasn’t changed at all as I’ve gotten older. It’s all a means to an end: getting on stage and sharing these songs that I’m so proud of, and seeing if it connects with others. That part makes it all worthwhile. I probably should say that DC is the city I’m looking forward to most…but to be perfectly honest, I don’t get a lot of time to enjoy what cities have to offer like I’d like. It’s normally drive in straight to the venue or hotel, soundcheck, find some food, play the show, crash in the hotel, rinse and repeat. That being said, I can’t wait to bring my family up to DC and be total tourists. I’ve never really gotten to do that.
KN: What can we look forward to from you in 2019?
JPW: For the next 3 months, I will be playing across the US from sea to shining sea. Come October, it’s off to the EU. Rinse and repeat. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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